A Time To Give Back - Part 1
This semester, my students are trying something a little different than the standard team research project. Since we're in a project management course, I figured that the best course of action would be ... well... a course of ACTION. So, they've become not-for-profit consultants this semester. We have three amazing agencies with whom we're working, all of whom are affiliated with the United Way of Central Iowa. The directors of these agencies have been gracious and patient with my students, adding time into their already strenuously busy schedules so that my students can learn project management in a value-enriching environment.
The first agency is one that is very familiar with most people: Big Brothers Big Sisters. Althea Holcomb is a bundle of passion, whose love for children extends beyond the person she sees in front of her all the way to the future that person has in front of him or her. I joked that she "trades in futures": she and her hundreds of volunteers trade their time for the future of the hundreds of children who - now more than ever - need an adult role model to guide them in the path to adulthood. My students are helping her reconfigure some office space for optimal use. They are also helping her extend her marketing presence into another county.
One does not merely meet Ed Barnes; one experiences Ed Barnes. You come away exhausted after a conversation with this man (but, trust me, it's a "good" tired). Ed is the director of the Willkie House, which focuses on "at risk" children. The organization began 85 years ago as the Negro Recreation League and has evolved over the years to help children from all backgrounds with very effective after-school and summer programs. Ed's view of life and society is that we're all connected: one can't look at a group of minority children and think of just "them" - because it's all about a collective us. We're all related some how, some way, and it's up to all of us to make a difference. My students are helping him launch a program that will target 50 at-risk seventh graders and get to them before other influences have a chance to take hold.
There's an intersection where nature meets nurture, and it occurs precisely in the heart of Marylou Garcia, the director of Wildwood Hills Ranch. Her organization also works with kids from challenging backgrounds to provide them with something many could never fathom: a week in the outdoors, running, swimming, riding horses, and just being loved and looked after. The impact her organization has on these kids is inspirational, and it springs from a love and vision that she carries like a torch. My students are planning three projects for her: an updated website, a new Equestrian Center, and a strategy for hosting corporate retreats.
There's something very special going on in my class this semester. We put in very long hours in class sessions due to the condensed schedule. The students have a lot of reading in their text as well as responding to a class blog. The first night of class, I warned my students that they would work their tails off, and I don't think I misrepresented that expectation. But amazingly, the energy level from my students - in person, on the phone, and through email - is very high this semester. I think Ed is right: we are all connected, and when we reach down to raise up even one person, it raises us all. The student presentations will be on November 4th. I feel like a kid right before Christmas. But there is one more thing...